As the lightest balance bike with air tires on the market, the Hornit AIRO certainly has bragging rights. If you’ve heard anything about the AIRO, you’ve most likely heard that its magnesium frame and fork make it a feather weight. But is lightweight always something to brag about? We quickly discovered that the answer to this question is “no”.
The Hornit AIRO certainly is a beautifully crafted little balance bike. It has a wide seat height range to accommodate kids from 18 months to 4 or even 5 years old. Its air tires provide great traction and cushioning for your little explorer. Its saddle is kid-proportioned and nicely padded.
But… (and this is a huge but), in addition to being insanely lightweight, it’s also insanely fast. Pair that with no hand brake, no turning limiter, and a narrow handlebar, and you could potentially have a recipe for disaster… or a high-speed crash like we did.
Read the review below to discover who the Hornit balance bike is best for, and who we believe it’s not safe for. (SPOILER ALERT – great for timid kids who won’t go fast… not great for confident kids who will go fast.)
Hornit AIRO Balance Bike Overview
RATING: Recommended with Reservations
BEST FOR: Beginning, timid riders in 2T – 3T. NOT recommended for adventurous or aggressive riders.
SEAT HEIGHT: 11 1/8″ – 16.5″ (But safe range 12″ to 15″)
WEIGHT: 6.4 lbs.
- Super lightweight magnesium frame
- Cushioning 2.25″ wide air tires
- Handle in the frame for easy carrying by mom or dad
- Seat post is highly adustable
- Kid-sized, padded saddle
- Lifetime warranty on frame and fork
- Wheel bearings are too smooth – causing the bike to be too fast
- Narrow handlebar can cause twitchy steering
- Lowest seat height position causes seat post to stick out too low below the frame
- No handbrake
- No turning limiter
- Seat height adjustment requires tool
Hornit AIRO Balance Bike Review – Results of our Test Rides
Performance – Can a Balance Bike Be Too Fast?
A lightweight balance bike can do wonders for a toddler’s ability and desire to learn to ride. As a general rule, lightweight is better. It’s easier for a child to maneuver, easier for them to switch directions, and easier to pick themselves up after a fall.
But after the learning process is over and that toddler has gained skill and confidence on the balance bike, lighter combined with faster doesn’t necessarily mix well.
Our almost 4-year-old was sooo excited to ride a balance bike again. After transitioning to pedals a year ago, the minute the Hornit AIRO was assembled, she was zipping around the house with glee.
But on our first adventure outdoors, that glee quickly turned to tears. Early one morning we took this little balance bike on a very short half-a-block ride to the bus stop with big brother. On the way home, going down a very gradual decline, this speed demon was pumping her little legs as fast as she could and grinning so big it made my heart burst.
And then in a split second, I saw her handlebars jackknife and she flew with incredible speed straight towards the sidewalk – face first. Her Hornit helmet literally saved her head and face from major injury, and very luckily she walked away with only minor scrapes and bruises. (Here’s an image showing how compressed the inner foam core became as a result of this crash!)
But that crash was so dramatic and absolutely unnecessary. As an experienced and skilled rider, she was unable to maintain control of the balance bike at fast speeds. Given a toddler’s mental capacity to determine what is a safe speed and what is too fast, we don’t believe that a balance bike that can so easily go so fast is the safest choice.
How is this fast bike different than any other balance bike?
There are several factors that we believe contributed to our little rider’s high-speed crash. (1) Smooth wheel bearings, (2) lightweight frame, (3) narrow handlebars, and (4) no hand brake.
We do want to emphasize that our rider is comfortably riding the AIRO at its maximum seat height. A much shorter and younger rider may not be able to reach the speeds that contributed to the crash. However, if you plan on using this bike for the full extension of the seat post and/or until your rider is 3 or 4 years old, what we’re about to explain is quite relevant to you.
Smooth Wheel Bearings
The wheel bearings on the Hornit AIRO are probably a bit too smooth for a balance bike. The wheel bearings affect how quickly the wheel can spin. There is very little rolling resistance on these wheels, allowing the AIRO to roll faster that most balance bikes.
Turning the bikes upside down and resting them on their saddle and handlebars, we spun the wheels at the same time to see which balance bike’s wheel would stop last. The Hornit AIRO was the clear winner. Essentially, all other things equal, the AIRO would be the fastest bike.
The Hornit’s smooth tread tires also contribute to the speed of the bike on paved surfaces.
At just 6.4 pounds, Hornit touts the AIRO’s lightweight magnesium frame and fork as its primary selling point. We agree that this is impressive. Especially for young toddlers, a balance bike under 8 pounds can make a huge difference in the child’s ability to maneuver the bike and progress more quickly in their skills.
However, this lightweight frame paired with the smooth wheel bearings allows the bike to move faster than a heavier bike powered by the same rider. Additionally, it’s so lightweight that it doesn’t feel very grounded for older and heavier riders, despite being advertised as suitable for ages up to 5 with an inseam of 18.9″.
For reference, our rider is almost 4, and has an inseam of 18.5″.
The Hornit AIRO’s handlebar is one of the most narrow on the market. At 14.25″ wide (not including the wide grip bumpers that cannot be used to actually grip), they about 1.5″ more narrow than the Yeedoo TooToo and 1.75″ more narrow than the woom 1.
Why does a narrow handlebar matter? Narrow bars lead to less stability and twitchier steering, especially at high speeds. Even riding around the house I could see our rider’s handlebars jerking to the left or right pretty regularly. Inside, she couldn’t reach speeds high enough that this would matter. But outside, she quickly did.
In our crash, our little rider jackknifed as she reached speeds beyond her control on this particular balance bike. A handbrake would not have saved her because she didn’t realize she was going too fast and was going to crash. She wasn’t even trying to slow down.
However, in other situations, we do feel that the lack of a handbrake could potentially be unsafe. Because this bike can reach such high speeds, it’s a bit puzzling to us that it doesn’t have a handbrake.
Some will say that toddlers don’t have enough hand-eye coordination to use a handbrake. True, and not true. By about 2.5 to 3-years-old, most toddlers can start to use a handbrake with a bit of prodding by mom and dad.
In the case of the Hornit balance bike, by the time a child would be old enough, strong enough, and fast enough to really start reaching high speeds, they would also likely be old enough for a handbrake to be useful.
While most balance bikes don’t have handbrakes, our opinion is that the Hornit AIRO needs one. Additionally, considering its price point, you should expect one.
Hornit AIRO Sizing
With a seat height range of 11.25″ to 16.5″, the Hornit AIRO is designed to fit a toddler for longer than your average balance bike – from about 18 months to 4 or 5 years old. But based on our testing, the safest usable seat height range is about 12″ to 15″.
However, we don’t believe it’s safe to use the AIRO with its saddle slammed all the way down to its minimum seat height. Why? Ground clearance!
When the AIRO’s saddle is at its lowest point, the seat post is only 1.5″ above the ground. That’s not a lot of clearance. The Strider has 2.25″, which still isn’t a lot, but much better. Other balance bikes with shorter seat posts have considerably more ground clearance, like the Banana Bike GT which has 3.25″.
Why does this matter? Because unless your child is sticking to entirely flat surfaces, the seat post can get caught on an uneven surface like the lip of brick on our front porch.
As a result, we don’t recommend using the Hornit AIRO at its lowest seat height. Instead, we recommend using it about 12″.
On the high-end, our 42.5″ tall 3-year-old with an 18.5″ inseam was a perfectly comfortable fit at the AIRO’s maximum seat height of 16.5″. No more room for growth, but this is often how balance bikes fit kids as they are about to transition to a pedal bike.
However, unless your child is timid and won’t be attempting to go fast as they get taller and stronger, we don’t recommend using the Hornit AIRO at its tallest end either.
Hornit Balance Bike Components
Frame Carrying Handle
Like the very similar Vitus Smoothy, the Hornit AIRO has an opening in the center of the frame that acts as a carrying handle. This is an incredibly cool feature.
If you’ve never had a child on a balance bike before, let us give you a reality check. You’ll be carrying that balance bike… a lot! Toddlers often decide they are done mid-ride, and refuse to even ride the bike back to the car. That carrying handle is so convenient.
The grippy footrests on the AIRO are some of best we’ve seen. Small enough to be unobtrusive, but large enough for a child to rest a portion of their foot, these footrests are highly effective. When cruising and gliding around the house, our almost-4-year-old thought they were pretty much the coolest thing ever.
Just be aware that you shouldn’t choose a balance bike because you think your child needs a footrest. While there’s nothing wrong with a well-designed footrest, kids don’t actually need them. It’s much more common for them to just lift their legs as they glide.
Many kids never use footrests, even when they have them. Our little tester wasn’t interested in them as a younger rider. Now that she’s older and even more coordinated than last year, she does clearly get a kick out of having a place to rest her feet.
Headset and Handlebars
True headsets on a balance bike aren’t very common, but should be expected here considering the AIRO’s price point. A true headset keeps the handlebars aligned better over time, and during minor crashes where a cheaper bike’s handlebars would often twist out of place.
During our rider’s high-speed crash, the handlebars did come out of alignment.
As mentioned earlier, the AIRO’s handlebars are more narrow than we would like. However, because the stem and handlebar are one piece, it’s not an option to simply swap the handlebar out for a wider bar, like on the Vitus Smoothy seen below.
Saddle and Seat Post
The curved saddle of the Hornit AIRO is designed to keep little bums from sliding too far back. It’s lightly padded and narrow for a child’s small frame.
The seat post does not have a quick-release collar and requires a tool to adjust the height. Because kids grow so quickly at this age, a quick release is such a convenient feature to have.
No Turning Limiter
Like many balance bikes, the Hornit AIRO does not have a turning limiter. A turning limiter does exactly what is says – it limits a bike’s turning radius. This can prevent a child from jerking the handlebars too sharply (on purpose or accident) and jackknifing. But even then, a turning limiter wouldn’t prevent a crash if a child jerked too quickly.
In our experience, the biggest advantage of a turning limiter is that the handlebars can’t get twisted in the wrong direction. Too often we’ve seen little riders a bit confused as they try to ride with their handlebars backwards!
Hornit AIRO Balance Bike – Bottom Line
The Hornit AIRO is a solid-quality and lightweight balance bike best for timid riders who will not be attempting fast speeds. However, its potential for “too-high” speeds, no handbrake, no turning limiter, and narrow handlebars earns it a “not recommended” for older or aggressive riders.